Cardinals Passing Offense vs. Patriots Passing Defense
There is no way the New England Patriots will line up Devin McCourty in single coverage against Larry Fitzgerald, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the Pats double team the NFL’s second best receiver. Steve Gregory isn’t the best safety in deep coverage, and that’s something that stemmed back from his days with the San Diego Chargers. They used him a lot near the line of scrimmage, as he can get exposed deep.
Therefore, I think we’re going to see Tavon Wilson bracketing Fitzgerald often. He is the Patriots best safety in coverage at this point, and this isn’t just a mere observation from his game against the Titans. It’s an observation that goes back to his solid displays in training camp.
But here’s the thing, the word “bracketing” doesn’t exactly work in this sense. Kevin Kolb isn’t going to have much time back there to launch a deep pass to Fitzgerald, which isn’t even how the Cards use Fitzgerald or their passing attack anyway. Not only is Kolb’s offensive line poor in pass protection, but Kolb is also poor when pressured. The Cardinals are going to try and target Fitzgerald often to move the chains, and Wilson is going to be there to make a play if Kolb targets him too often. By that, I mean that Wilson will take advantage of a poor throw from Kolb under pressure if Kolb simply chucks it in Fitz’s direction to avoid taking a sack.
Fitzgerald isn’t the only receiver on the Cardinals to watch for, as the Seahawks found out last week. No. 2 wideout Andre Roberts has worked hard to become a starting receiver in this league, and he caught five passes for 54 yards against the ‘Hawks- including a game-winning six-yard TD reception.
Early Doucet caught three passes for 37 yards against Seattle and has beaten out rookie Michael Floyd for the No. 3 receiver job, but he is an underwhelming receiver overall and shouldn’t cause Ras-I Dowling much trouble at all. I expect Kyle Arrington to draw coverage assignments against Roberts, but that’s speculation on my part at this point. As for Floyd, he was a standout during OTAs and minicamp but disappeared during training camp and was not a factor in the preseason. Against the Seahawks, Floyd did not even record a reception: I expect another quiet week from him.
The Arizona Cardinals have arguably the worst pass blocking offensive line in the league, which means that rookie Chandler Jones should have a huge day going up against journeyman left tackle De’Anthony Batiste. If you can play well against Michael Roos in your NFL regular season debut, then you can shred Batiste. I’ll get to more on Jones later.
The only good pass blocking lineman that the Cards have is center Lyle Sendlein, with everyone else being terrible in that regard. Jermaine Cunningham should have some fun against the Cards on third down, and the Patriots won’t have to send a five-man rush to make Kolb feel the heat.
Advantage: Patriots. Fitzgerald is great and Roberts is solid, but the Patriots have three quality corners and a big advantage in the trenches.
Cardinals Rushing Offense vs. Patriots Rushing Defense
The New England Patriots held star running back Chris Johnson to 0.36 yards per carry, and they will be facing a running back duo in Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells that combined for just 1.5 yards per carry on Sunday. Combine the fact that neither of them are fully healthy, and you get a huge advantage for arguably the best rushing offense in the league.
Wells is better than what he showed last week and is getting healthier, but I don’t see the upside in Williams yet and believe that Wells will get the brunt of the carries. Daryn Colledge is one of the best run blocking guards in the league and Sendlein also makes an impact in that regard, but neither of the tackles pave the way well so outside rushes will be difficult for the Cards to come by. That’s yet another reason for the Cardinals to hand the ball to Wells more often.
What really impressed me about Jones’s debut was his ability against the run, as he consistently helped redirect runs and got the better of Roos in run defense. Add him to the Patriots top triangle of Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, and Brandon Spikes, and I don’t see a big rushing day for the Cardinals. Their run blocking on the inside is much better than the Titans, but their outside run blocking is sorely lacking.
Advantage: Patriots, the clearest advantage of all of them.
Prediction: 31 Patriots, 10 Cardinals
You can read staff writer Chris Field’s lengthy break down of the game here, and it is a great one.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.